Let’s call this roundup of my favorite books from the last six months The Mom Edition. She introduced me to 3-1/2 of the books on my list, traded texts with quotes from one, debated how many F bombs in another made it an inappropriate high school graduation gift (books! so edgy!), and, you know, taught me how to read in the first place.
If you leave my mom and me alone for more than five minutes, you’ll return to find us both poring over a book to share our favorite lines, in tears over some emotional passage one of us recently read, or one us talking excitedly about some aspect of a book while the other shouts, “yes! yes! I thought so too!” both wildly gesturing with our hands. The first time Brad walked in on us in one of these moments (I think it was the last scenario that time), it felt like a dirty family secret had been discovered: My mom and I get worked up over books.
5. The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips Who doesn’t love a book that starts with a young girl watching a baby get dumped down a well? I know that’s macabre, but I promise the tone of the novel only goes up from there. After that horrific opening scene, you’re gently dumped into the Depression-era south and there’s so much to chew on–what it means to be good, how different our view of money is now, the drastic change in mindsets of the last few generations (and how invisible that is to someone born in the ’80s, like me)–until you get to the end and the mystery behind the baby is revealed. Also: This is this author’s first novel and I have a soft spot for first novels. Also also: The author’s name is so cool. I kept thinking that as Ginny from Harry Potter grew up, Harry probably called her Gin once in a while, which delighted me. But probably just me.
4. On Writing by Stephen King My mom gave me this book because she thinks I’m a good writer. That might sound lame or obvious to you (whose mom doesn’t think they’re good at something?), but it means the world to me. She also gave me a copy of Reading Like a Writer after I raved about the one I borrowed from the library. In it, she wrote something like, “to my favorite writer.” Reader, I cried. Anyway, this is the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read (and as you’ve probably guessed, the one with enough swear words to make it ineligible for giving to high schoolers). It has super-practical advice that makes writing seem so doable, you’re motivated to do it. At least that’s how it worked with me. And drum roll…I checked out Under the Dome to see if I can handle his fiction. I’ll report back.
3. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers Oh, Lord Peter Wimsey! You are the coolest sleuth in England. After Sherlock Holmes of the Cumberbatch variety. (Is anyone else as fanatical about that show as I am? Martin Freeman! You’re a jewel! And so British! When did I turn into the person whose favorite shows air on PBS? On further reflection, many of my favorite shows growing up were on PBS–3-2-1 Contact, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Colonial House!) Ahem. As I was saying Lord Peter Wimsey’s smart, witty way of solving clever mysteries has me hooked. Multiple times in each novel, Lord Peter will stop to have a sandwich or a tipple and I don’t care where he falls in Who’s Who of Titled Peoples, that means we have something in common. In this installment, he goes undercover at an ad agency in London, working for his money like we commoners must do every single day. I found it hilarious. For those paying careful attention, I’m on month six of my January Dorothy Sayers binge.
2. Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach This is the second time running a cookbook has appeared in one of my top five lists. But hear me out: Out of all the books on this list, this one had the best storytelling. Jenny mixes dinner strategies with funny anecdotes about cooking while parenting and the whole thing left me feeling better about the state of the world. My favorite part of this book has nothing to do with food and everything to do with her former career as a magazine editor. I can trace a shift in my perspective about my work back to this cookbook. In other words, Jenny Rosenstrach is major. And you should read her blog (one of my favorite places online) for easy, wholesome meal ideas and some darn good writing.
1. Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber As if I need another book to give me England mania. The bottom line is that at some point in my life, I have to live there. That is all. This book isn’t for everyone (as opposed to a book about a baby thrown down a well, one about how to write a novel, a detective story from the ’30s, and a cookbook. Those anyone can and should read). Weber writes about studying abroad in Oxford, her painstaking conversion to Christianity, and falling in love. Read this book for the nuggets throughout (I now carry the phrase “relentless truthfulness”–as in God’s pursuit of us– in my head). Or read it if you’re totally stuck on descriptions of English academic life (see also: A Severe Mercy and Wesley Hill’s twitter feed while he’s been studying in Durham, England) and daydream about English friends coming over for simple but hearty suppers and pints and staying up so late talking about intellectual things that you break out the scones and curd. I don’t do that, ever. I also don’t search for cottage rentals in northern England, ever.
What have you all read (and liked) so far this year?